Tag Archives: beauty

Agency, choice, science.Being sentient.

Dear Creator,

You made us like this. You gave us the capacity to think, to reason, to debate, to examine evidence.

You gave us the deep desire to love, to connect, to communicate, to share ideas and feelings. You instilled in us a potential to build our empathy, to understand complexity and contradiction, to examine standpoints, to listen and to learn.

As far as we know we are the only species who can do this.

As far as we know.

So why…

are we the species who plunder and loot, who exploit and overuse, who use escapism and denial to hide from our responsibility to be that “higher life form” our art and philosophy used to tell us we were?

are we the species who fear our neighbour and lock up CHILDREN to feed our own fear?

has human history consistently been full of war, abuse, terror, greed and squabbling over things that are not ours?

Creator was this inevitable? Did you know we would be like this? Why did you not know? Why did you make us? Have we ever been better?

Can we be better?

Can these dry bones live? Is there a hope that is not just denial? Is there a joy that is not just excess? Is there a love? Any real love? Not desire or neurosis or need or charity but just that pure and redeeming thing…love?

At church today we talked about Dominic asking us to contemplate the good, the beautiful and the true. Help me to find that in my species. Help me to find it in myself.

The good. The beautiful. The true.

Life

Love

Amen

Light

“whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

How do we live the truth and change direction always to be heading into the light. In the midst of the lenten negativity of the readings I am finding this questioning of the integrity of my own life. I want to smugly point to this good work or that moment of clarity in my life and say “see I am all about light” but the point of this reading is not to brag (nor to self-condemn) but to realise that we can’t and don’t live 100% light-illumined and truthful lives but we are always striving to “come to” a light which in its completeness is unapproachable (the bible is full of the transcendence of God just as much as the immanence).

No one person or organisation is fully “the truth” or “the light” none but Jesus of Nazareth perhaps in his claims to be one with Divine Wisdom herself. The best we can do is turn toward God, be influenced by the same Holy Spirit that lived perfectly within Jesus.

How do we know the light of God in a world where there are so many lights clamouring for us to follow them…lights of supposedly infallible authority (which over time reveal themselves to be contaminated with exploitative uses of power); lights of manufactured desires and the consent to turn a blind eye to injustice that go with it (that glitter at the peripheries of our privileged vision even when we strive to be better than that); the light of reason, “the enlightenment” all things rational, efficient, proven, positivist and ultimately reductive of the human complexity to a set of algorithms and chemical reactions?

We live in a dazzling cultural shopping mall of neon lights and fairy lights and lava lamps and light up running shoes and goodness knows what other lights that stake a claim on our need for security and soothing, our hollowness and anxiety, our preference for easy answers.

And God is not just one such easy answer.

The first reading tells us that God sends us messengers to urge us to turn away from the wrong and dangerous things we do. Which practices are “abominations” however? Ideas of right and wrong are hotly contested and each person feels that it is “everybody else” that is failing to listen to the word of God.

In qualitative research we talk about “reflexivity”, being honest about who we are, what our bias and standpoint are and why we might believe what we believe. Relexivity in practice can also involve looking at our own behaviour and habits to find ways to be as coherent as possible (morally coherent, intellectually coherent) when we are teaching or leading others. An obvious example of bad practice is adults using hitting as a punishment, while trying to teach a child to value peaceful and non-violent strategies to their problems; refusing to listen to honour promises while trying to teach the child respect and honesty…etc…One sentence that sums up this lack of coherence that I have heard actually used is “Don’t you fucking swear at me.”

These ways of teaching or leading show that I am more concerned with my own power over you, than with the content of what I claim to want to teach you. Jesus as the intimate, barefoot-walking word of God came to break bread with us and lie down on our earth and suffer dishonour and death in solidarity with those who seek liberation. Jesus did not just preach, but also modelled. The light in our lives is that which gives us more than escapist distraction, more than certain authority, more than a freaking display of colour – however beautiful- but the light comes to take us a step toward something permanent and another step and another. The light is something transformative of our darkness, more than a night-light for our terrors but a beacon to come closer and be healed (and sent out).

The second reading is that one about faith through grace and not works. It gets misused at times to claim that it doesn’t matter what we do, only whether we “believe” as if belief is a state you can switch on at will a magical spell against having to try to grapple with the real world. The flip-side of this is that we can never really be “good” or deserve credit for our work or our choices. I largely grew up with such a depressing view of my own unconditional unworthiness, even when I have done everything I can all the credit belongs to God and I should still do better.

The word “grace” should surely evoke something more full of joy and beauty than this scenario. We can agree with the reading, we do not “earn” grace, we are not “saved” (or loved, or called or come into being) through any work we have achieved. Life is a gift and the kindom of God also is a pure gift. This does not mean that God does not call us to also give, to be agents of grace to others (and to ourselves). Grace is like a light that can bathe our lives with holiness, that can slowly spread to banish shadows of fear and hatred. So we are always/already loved and saved but then we are caught up in the desire to grace the world, to grace ourselves just as a baby is already beloved before it can even make eye-contact or smiled, but this love bathes their sense of what it means to be and the baby is moved to want to participate in the family and learns all sorts of amazing things (how to sit up, how to form words, how to use humour) not because the baby only becomes human through these “works” or learning but because the humanity the baby already possesses drives them to desire to participate in connection and social agency.

It is the same with the kindom of God. We are loved and treasured no matter how fast or slow our “development” is within God’s call to us. We are called and challenged to participate as we become able, because it is only fair to do that and because it gives God joy and pride in us when we take notice of the work of creation and learn to dance it with her. Perhaps it is convenient to talk about “belief” as the ingredient that brings out our loving response to God but there is also a danger that belief becomes a talisman against having to really, deeply care and do.

Moses lifted up a serpent in the desert for everyone to look upon and be saved. We want it to be that easy don’t we? We want to ignore every other part of salvation history where the people continued to quarrel and contest the meaning of various teachings, continued to make mistakes and had to be called back again and again to look after the widow and the orphan and the foreigner. Symbols bring us together but it is the “together” not the symbol that enacts change. Symbols point to deeper truths, belief is one of those “works” that is incidental to the grace which really saves.

Faith is a relationship, an orientation not an act of will, a contract or a set of tick-boxes.

Seeking light this International Women’s Day I visit the grave of my mother and read the bible-verse that we decided summed up who she was for us and summed up also where she drew her wisdom and loveliness (as we saw it) from.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5)

God’s light is not a competing light display in the shopping mall of shallow dreams. It goes out to where the darkness is and stubbornly shines there. We look for the light in the parts of life we are afraid to face. We know the light will be there and we come to it. The darkness has not overcome it…not then, not now, not ever.

The light shines.

Thanksgiving: more than an insipid “inspiration”

 

It’s so fashionable now to practice “gratefulness” as a means of self-care, a sort of niceness and middle-classness inner-beauty routine and a cynical part of me can’t help wondering if a purpose of it is also to dull down our radical edge, to quiet down our critical possibilities and manufacture apathy and consent to the oppression of others. At the very least the saccharine sweet “gratefulness” that I am fortunate and relatively wealthy and superficially beautiful seems like an exercise in shallowness. I have a handful of friends who sneer at it, pointing to the parsimonious attitude toward others present in some of the most smarmy advocates of “gratefulness” as a five-minutes-a-day lip service.

Gratefulness that is grounded in inequality, the celebratory attitudes of the class war winners is like fundamentalist Christianity. It is something ugly made out of what originated as a call to deep beauty. It is a hypocrisy, a whited sepulchre.

The danger, when looking for a deeper, truer gratefulness (real thanks grounded in a two-way relationship with a God we touch) is that it is all too easy to fall into other forms of superiority like the Pharisee in this parable. But sourness and ingratitude is also not the answer; after communion there is a dedicated time to sink into thanksgiving.

I am going to struggle to articulate a thanks that is not complacent, not superior and has the grittiness and tears of solidarity. If I am better than “the least of these” then I am better than the God I claim to thank. If I am thanking God for elevating me above others, then I have lost sight of who God is in salvation history and my life.

I thank you God for being present in glimpses and grace-filled moments. For being present in the challenge and affirmation of community.

I thank you for responsive and accepting people. I thank you for the anger of those I ought to stand with and help. I thank you for my identity as one oppressed, one who stands with you. I thank you for the awareness you call me to of my own privilege, for the insistent asking that I remove my foot from your neck (you are present in my sisters and brothers and the earth herself).

I thank you for the call to do good. I thank you for other labourers in the vineyard who insist I rest and self-care at times. I thank you for my ability to nurture and support others. I ask you not to ask me to lead. I thank you for giving me the resources to do what needs to be done (the bare minimum perhaps) and your call for me to stretch and be more than I have been. I thank you that greater and wiser people surround me so that I can fail and fall without catastrophe (I hope).

I thank you for feeding me and for demanding that I feed others. I ask you to teach me to feed others better by sharing what I have and my gifts and even my anger. I ask you to show me the grace to be a friend, a mentor and an affirmer of others. I ask you to place Wisdom in my heart so that no words get past without her influence.

I ask you how I might love myself without being complacent and a parasite? I ask you how I may critique myself without losing necessary self-acceptance.

 I thank you for loving me regardless of the questions around who I am and what I do. I thank you because I largely know I am beloved. I thank you for the people who show this to me. I thank you for the beauty which is in the world. I ask you to scatter beauty to every corner, to the eyes of any that might be moved or supported by it. I ask to be part of the beauty in your way.

I thank you that the bread is broken and has crumbs. I ask to be the hands that break and distribute it. I ask not to be broken, I lack the courage.

I thank you for wine, and the way it has no purpose except sensuous beauty and pleasure. I thank you for being the wine in the world. I thank you that wine is better shared wider. I thank you for plump purpleness and bursting sweetness of grapes. I thank you for the miracle of fermentation.

I pray that your bread and wine will enter the experiences of all, and that your call will reach every heart. I pray with a heart open to being called into the movement. I pray tiredly with an apology for not being more. I pray with gratefulness for being loved and for feeling love.

This is not my five-second “gratefulness” exercise, a trick I play on myself between bouts of consumption and tears. Show me God how to make my life an act of gratefulness that you loved me enough to touch and call me. Breathe on me breath of God, and make us one. Thank you for knowing the “me” you love and loving the “me” you know.

In love, in deepening gratefulness.

Amen.